Chicago, IL

Living in Chicago Prompts 500 Days of Meditation

Rene Cizio

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I’ve been trying meditation for 500 days. Before this, aside from the moment of rest at the end of yoga class, I never meditated at all. Who has the time? So, I was surprised to learn, instead of taking, it gives me time.

Living for the first time in downtown Chicago, I found I needed to slow down a bit, I was also, go, go, go. My mind swirled from everything around me. I thought ... perhaps meditation ... but ...

Honestly, I always thought it was just way too much nonsense to be real or helpful or that meditating was for eastern religious people or those who’ve gone off the rails. (Maybe I have finally gone off the rails?)

It was during those moments, though, in that restful Shavasana corpse pose at the end of yoga class, lying prone atop my mat on the hard floor, limps spread wide, that I first experienced what meditation could give me: nothing. Absolute nothingness. And I wanted more of it.

It would happen sporadically; I didn’t know how or why, sometimes it did and others it did not, but one minute, at the end of class, I would laying on my mat and the next I would reappear, my body still in the same place, but my being (?) returned from a void.

It wasn’t sleep because I was always remotely aware. But it was a sort of detachment from the swirling of my mind that left me, even after just a minute feeling lighter and freer than I had before. One moment of escape from the prison of my mind. It was blissful.

I didn’t even know my mind had been a prison until I was free from it. It had been running like a noise machine playing full blast when meditation suddenly turned it off. Oh. I hadn’t realized the noise that had been surrounding me, inside of me.

So, I downloaded a meditation app and decided to spend a few minutes each morning seeking the void, seeing if I could force the noise into silence at will. Little did I know intentionally meditating is not an act of force, but I had much to learn.

Day 1 I’ll Try

At first, I felt like a total idiot, but I made a 30-day pledge to myself, so I was sticking with it. Five-hundred days later and I’m still doing the same thing most days.

The first thing I do in the morning when I wake up is grab my phone, select one of the bookmarked meditations and push play. I lay in a prone position in my bed and listen. The instructor will talk for a few minutes on topics I’ve chosen, such as letting go, forgiveness, manifestation, affirmations, or others. Then we meditate together in silence for about five minutes.

Some days I skip the app and only count mala beads while silently repeating a chant or mantra to myself while counting the beads.

Day 30 I’m Really Bad at This

Most days, it is a wrestling match. As I try to focus on nothing, I fade in and out, pulled by thoughts and plans for the day. Repeatedly, I must pull myself back toward the void.

Some days I struggle the entire time for even a second of respite from the nagging thoughts about things that happened yesterday and things that might occur in the distant future, but mostly it’s thoughts about how bad I am at meditation.

As I meditate, between five and 20 minutes, I am continually swaying between thoughts and emptiness depending on the day. I veer in and out of my busy mind as I seek to train my focus toward nothingness.

Day 300 Where Focus Goes

After about 300 days, I realized, for me, meditation is about focus and control. I think now it’s probably a bit different for everyone depending on what you need.

I tend to live in my head among future plans and memories of the past. My thoughts, simple and large, are all-consuming and redundant to the point of dullness. How many times can you think the same thoughts? Endlessly without resolve, it turns out.

What trying meditation has taught me is that I can recognize when my mind has started chewing the bone again and that I can reset it.

It doesn’t take long, like scratching an itch, and my mind is back at it again. Without consciously realizing it, my focus has drifted to chores I must remember to do, a conversation from last week, or that I need to buy yogurt. And once I notice, I stop and reset again. For me, this is meditation.

After 500 Days … Time

What I’ve received from 500 days of meditation is time. For seconds each day, I’m able to pause the clock – stop that swirling dervish in my mind and exist without calculating, plotting, or measuring everything.

Focus

I am much quicker about recognizing the drift of thoughts and refocusing, which has helped me become more efficient with my work and get things done faster. My mind is a tool that I can harness or let run wild. I’m trying to let it run wild less often. That is not to say that I don’t let it wander, because that is where my creativity often comes from, but that I am more aware of its wandering.

Peace

With focus comes a stillness I equate to peace. The ability to recognize the mindless babble of my brain and stop it from spiraling into a loop of meaningless noise gives me a sense of peace. Knowing I have some control to turn down the volume of the chatter is a blessing.

Kindness

Many of the meditation teachers on my app, to no surprise, focus on kindness. My mind has not always been a kind place to be, but with focus and peace comes kindness. How can it not?

I’ve learned through this practice to grant myself some grace. Not just in trying to meditate, but in all things. If I can’t shut my mind off, I can decide the channel it is set on. I can be gentle with myself, and through that practice, I am naturally more gentle with others.

Changes in Others

I don’t know if others who know me would have noticed any change in me over the last 500 days, but I see them differently.

Through my meditation practice, I recognize when the unconscious minds of the people around me are in control or running on autopilot, unaware of their presence in the world. I notice now when people react without thinking, respond without measure, and consume without consideration. They are not aware of this and do not recognize it in themselves or others.

I can spot, too, those who have more focus, radiate kindness and move through the world with more grace and consciousness. There is a marked difference and I wonder what they practice?

Some days I still spend entirely unconscious and some days, I have been very present. How I feel at the end of those days is very different. The more I can focus and be present in the moment and not the future or the past, the better I feel.

A Bit of Peace and Time

Those moments I spend each morning give me back so many more minutes each day. They’ve opened my eyes to my responses and energy and allow me to pause. Within those pauses, I find peace. Within that peace, I can react with more intention, less rush.

My mind is a valuable tool, but one I’ve too often let run wild. It and I are better served when I can focus its power. Meditation allows me to do that, even just a little bit, but that little bit is miles better than where I was 500 days ago when I didn’t know any of these things. To hear them and to read them is one thing, but to feel them and know them is something you can only have after 500 days of practice.

What, I wonder, will I know after 1,000 days?

I have a recording of eight hours of Buddhist monks chanting a powerful and well-known prayer called Om Mani Padme Hum. It is a six-syllable Sanskrit mantra meaning Praise to the Jewel in the Lotus in honor of the Buddha.

Sometimes, as I listen, I wonder with awe at their abilities. How are they able to sit for so long perfect meditation?

But then my teachers remind me, there is not perfect meditation. Mediation is a practice. Those monks are likely thinking of their grocery lists, too, balancing the tide of thoughts and seeking just like the rest of us. One day, I may know.

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Digital nomad, solo traveling full time. I write about travel, adventure, universal energy, and the journey through life. Pictures on Instagram @renecizio

Chicago, IL
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